Amabel Channice
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English

Amabel Channice

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The Project Gutenberg EBook of Amabel Channice, by Anne Douglas Sedgwick
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Title: Amabel Channice
Author: Anne Douglas Sedgwick
Release Date: April 28, 2009 [EBook #28631]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
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Amabel Channice
BY
Anne Douglas Sedgwick
AUTHOR OF "THE RESCUE," "PATHS OF JUDGEMENT, " "A FOUNTAIN SEALED," ETC.
NEW YORK The Century Co. 1908
Copyright, 1908, by THE CENTURY CO.
Published October, 1908
THE DE VINNE PRESS
AMABEL CHANNICE
I
ady Channice was waiting for her son to come in from the garden. The afternoon was growing late, but she had not sat down to the table, though tea was ready and the kettle sent out a narrow banner of steam. Walking up and down the long room she paused now and then to look at the bowls and vases of roses placed about it, now and then to look out of the windows, and finally at the last window she stopped to watch Augustine advancing over the lawn towards the house. It was a grey stone house, low and solid, its bareness unalleviated by any grace of ornament or structure, and its two long rows of windows gazed out resignedly at a tame prospect. The stretch of lawn sloped to a sunken stone wall; beyond the wall a stream ran sluggishly in a ditch-like channel; on the left the grounds were shut in by a sycamore wood, and beyond were flat meadows crossed in the distance by lines of tree-bordered roads. It was a peaceful, if not a cheering prospect. Lady Channice was fond of it. Cheerfulness was not a thing she looked for; but she looked for peace, and it was peace she found in the flat green distance, the far, reticent ripple of hill on the horizon, the dark forms of the sycamores. Her only regret for the view was that it should miss the sunrise and sunset; in the evenings, beyond the silhouetted woods, one saw the golden sky; but the house faced north, and it was for this that the green of the lawn was so dank, and the grey of the walls so cold, and the light in the
drawing-room where Lady Channice stood so white and so monotonous.
She was fond of the drawing-room, also, unbeautiful and grave to sadness though it was. The walls were wainscotted to the ceiling with ancient oak, so that though the north light entered at four high windows the room seemed dark. The furniture was ugly, miscellaneous and inappropriate. The room had been dismantled, and in place of the former drawing-room suite were gathered together incongruous waifs and strays from dining- and smoking-room and boudoir. A number of heavy chairs predominated covered in a maroon leather which had cracked in places; and there were three lugubrious sofas to match.
By degrees, during her long and lonely years at Charlock House, Lady Channice had, at first tentatively, then with a growing assurance in her limited sphere of action, moved away all the ugliest, most trivial things: tattered brocade and gilt footstools, faded antimacassars, dismal groups of birds and butterflies under glass cases. When she sat alone in the evening, after Augustine, as child or boy, had gone to bed, the ghostly glimmer of the birds, the furtive glitter of a glass eye here and there, had seemed to her quite dreadful. The removal of the cases (they were large and heavy, and Mrs. Bray, the housekeeper, had looked grimly disapproving)—was her crowning act of courage, and ever since their departure she had breathed more freely. It had been easier to dispose of all the little colonies of faded photographs that stood on cabinets and tables; they were photographs of her husband's family and of his family's friends, people most of whom were quite unknown to her, and their continued presence in the abandoned house was due to indifference, not affection: no one had cared enough about them to put them away, far less to look at them. After looking at them for some years,—these girls in court dress of a bygone fashion, huntsmen holding crops, sashed babies and matrons in caps or tiaras,—Lady Channice had cared enough to put them away. She had not, either, to ask for Mrs. Bray's assistance or advice for this, a fact which was a relief, for Mrs. Bray was a rather dismal being and reminded her, indeed, of the stuffed birds in the removed glass cases. With her own hands she incarcerated the photographs in the drawers of a heavily carved bureau and turned the keys upon them.
The only ornaments now, were the pale roses, the books, and, above her writing-desk, a little picture that she had brought with her, a water-colour sketch of her old home painted by her mother many years ago.
So the room looked very bare. It almost looked like the parlour of a convent; with a little more austerity, whitened walls and a few thick velvet and gilt lives of the saints on the tables, the likeness would have been complete. The house itself was conventual in aspect, and Lady Channice, as she stood there in the quiet light at the window, looked not unlike a nun, were it not for her crown of pale gold hair that shone in the dark room and seemed, like the roses, to bring into it the brightness of an outer, happier world.
She was a tall woman of forty, her ample form, her wide bosom, the falling folds of her black dress, her loosely girdled waist, suggesting, with the cloistral analogies, the mournful benignity of a bereaved Madonna. Seen as she stood there, leaning her head to watch her son's approach, she was an almost intimidating presence, black, still, and stately. But when the door opened and the young man came in, when, not moving to meet him, she turned her head
with a slight smile of welcome, all intimidating impressions passed away. Her face, rather, as it turned, under its crown of gold, was the intimidated face. It was curiously young, pure, flawless, as though its youth and innocence had been preserved in some crystal medium of prayer and silence; and if the nun-like analogies failed in their awe-inspiring associations, they remained in the associations of unconscious pathos and unconscious appeal. Amabel Channice's face, like her form, was long and delicately ample; its pallor that of a flower grown in shadow; the mask a little over-large for the features. Her eyes were small, beautifully shaped, slightly slanting upwards, their light grey darkened under golden lashes, the brows definitely though palely marked. Her mouth was pale coral-colour, and the small upper lip, lifting when she smiled as she was smiling now, showed teeth of an infantile, milky whiteness. The smile was charming, timid, tentative, ingratiating, like a young girl's, and her eyes were timid, too, and a little wild.
"Have you had a good read?" she asked her son. He had a book in his hand.
"Very, thanks. But it is getting chilly, down there in the meadow. And what a lot of frogs there are in the ditch," said Augustine smiling, "they were jumping all over the place."
"Oh, as long as they weren't toads!" said Lady Channice, her smile lighting in response. "When I came here first to live there were so many toads, in the stone areas, you know, under the gratings in front of the cellar windows. You can't imagine how many! It used quite to terrify me to look at them and I went to the front of the house as seldom as possible. I had them all taken away, finally, in baskets,—not killed, you know, poor things,—but just taken and put down in a field a mile off. I hope they didn't starve;—but toads are very intelligent, aren't they; one always associates them with fairy-tales and princes."
She had gone to the tea-table while she spoke and was pouring the boiling water into the teapot. Her voice had pretty, flute-like ups and downs in it and a questioning, upward cadence at the end of sentences. Her upper lip, her smile, the run of her speech, all would have made one think her humorous, were it not for the strain of nervousness that one felt in her very volubility.
Her son lent her a kindly but rather vague attention while she talked to him about the toads, and his eye as he stood watching her make the tea was also vague. He sat down presently, as if suddenly remembering why he had come
in, and it was only after a little interval of silence, in which he took his cup from his mother's hands, that something else seemed to occur to him as suddenly, a late arriving suggestion from her speech.
"What a horribly gloomy place you must have found it. "
Her eyes, turning on him quickly, lost, in an instant, their uncertain gaiety.
"Gloomy? Is it gloomy? Do you feel it gloomy here, Augustine?"
"Oh, well, no, not exactly," he answered easily. "You see I've always been used to it. You weren't."
As she said nothing to this, seeming at a loss for any reply, he went on presently to talk of other things, of the book he had been reading, a heavy metaphysical tome; of books that he intended to read; of a letter that he had
received that morning from the Eton friend with whom he was going up to Oxford for his first term. His mother listened, showing a careful interest usual with her, but after another little silence she said suddenly:
"I think it's a very nice place, Charlock House, Augustine. Your father wouldn't have wanted me to live here if he'd imagined that I could find it gloomy, you know."
"Oh, of course not," said the young man, in an impassive, pleasant voice.
"He has always, in everything, been so thoughtful for my comfort and happiness," said Lady Channice.
Augustine did not look at her: his eyes were fixed on the sky outside and he seemed to be reflecting—though not over her words.
"So that I couldn't bear him ever to hear anything of that sort," Lady Channice went on, "that either of us could find it gloomy, I mean. You wouldn't ever say it to him, would you, Augustine." There was a note at once of urgency and appeal in her voice.
"Of course not, since you don't wish it," her son replied.
"I ask you just because it happens that your father is coming," Lady Channice said, "tomorrow;—and, you see, if you had this in your mind, you might have said something. He is coming to spend the afternoon."
He looked at her now, steadily, still pleasantly; but his colour rose.
"Really," he said.
"Isn't it nice. I do hope that it will be fine; these Autumn days are so uncertain; if only the weather holds up we can have a walk perhaps."
"Oh, I think it will hold up. Will there be time for a walk?"
"He will be here soon after lunch, and, I think, stay on to tea."
"He didn't stay on to tea the last time, did he."  
"No, not last time; he is so very busy; it's quite three years since we have had that nice walk over the meadows, and he likes that so much."
She was trying to speak lightly and easily. "And it must be quite a year since you have seen him."
"Quite," said Augustine. "I never see him, hardly, but here, you know."
He was still making his attempt at pleasantness, but something hard and strained had come into his voice, and as, with a sort of helplessness, her resources exhausted, his mother sat silent, he went on, glancing at her, as if with the sudden resolution, he also wanted to make very sure of his way;—
"You like seeing him more than anything, don't you; though you are separated."
Augustine Channice talked a great deal to his mother about outside things, such as philosophy; but of personal things, of their relation to the world, to each other, to his father, he never spoke. So that his speaking now was arresting.
His mother gazed at him. "Separated? We have always been the best of friends " .
"Of course. I mean—that you've never cared to live together.—Incompatibility, I suppose. Only," Augustine did not smile, he looked steadily at his mother, "I should think that since you are so fond of him you'd like seeing him oftener. I should think that since he is the best of friends he would want to come oftener, you know."
When he had said these words he flushed violently. It was an echo of his mother's flush. And she sat silent, finding no words.
"Mother," said Augustine, "forgive me. That was impertinent of me. It's no affair of mine. "
She thought so, too, apparently, for she found no words in which to tell him that it was his affair. Her hands clasped tightly in her lap, her eyes downcast, she seemed shrunken together, overcome by his tactless intrusion.
"Forgive me," Augustine repeated.
The supplication brought her the resource of words again. "Of course, dear. It is only—I can't explain it to you. It is very complicated. But, though it seems so strange to you, to everybody, I know—it is just that: though we don't live together, and though I see so little of your father, I do care for him very, very much. More than for anybody in the world,—except you, of course, dear Augustine."
"Oh, don't be polite to me," he said, and smiled. "More than for anybody in the world; stick to it."
She could but accept the amendment, so kindly and, apparently, so lightly pressed upon her, and she answered him with a faint, a grateful smile, saying, in a low voice:—"You see, dear, he is the noblest person I have ever known." Tears were in her eyes. Augustine turned away his own.
They sat then for a little while in silence, the mother and son.
Her eyes downcast, her hands folded in an attitude that suggested some inner dedication, Amabel Channice seemed to stay her thoughts on the vision of that nobility. And though her son was near her, the thoughts were far from him.
It was characteristic of Augustine Channice, when he mused, to gaze straight before him, whatever the object might be that met his unseeing eyes. The object now was the high Autumnal sky outside, crossed only here and there by a drifting fleet of clouds.
The light fell calmly upon the mother and son and, in their stillness, their contemplation, the two faces were like those on an old canvas, preserved from time and change in the trance-like immutability of art. In colour, the two heads chimed, though Augustine's hair was vehemently gold and there were under-tones of brown and amber in his skin. But the oval of Lady Channice's face grew angular in her son's, broader and more defiant; so that, palely, darkly white and gold, on their deep background, the two heads emphasized each other's character by contrast. Augustine's lips were square and scornful; his
nose ruggedly bridged; his eyes, under broad eyebrows, ringed round the iris with a line of vivid hazel; and as his lips, though mild in expression, were scornful in form, so these eyes, even in their contemplation, seemed fierce. Calm, controlled face as it was, its meaning for the spectator was of something passionate and implacable. In mother and son alike one felt a capacity for endurance almost tragic; but while Augustine's would be the endurance of the rock, to be moved only by shattering, his mother's was the endurance of the flower, that bends before the tempest, unresisting, beaten down into the earth, but lying, even there, unbroken.
II
he noise and movement of an outer world seemed to break in upon the recorded vision of arrested life.
The door opened, a quick, decisive step approached down the hall, and, closely following the announcing maid, Mrs. Grey, the local squiress, entered the room. In the normal run of rural conventions, Lady Channice should have held the place; but Charlock House no longer stood for what it had used to stand in the days of Sir Hugh Channice's forbears. Mrs. Grey, of Pangley Hall, had never held any but the first place and a consciousness of this fact seemed to radiate from her competent personality. She was a vast middle-aged woman clad in tweed and leather, but her abundance of firm, hard flesh could lend itself to the roughest exigences of a sporting outdoor life. Her broad face shone like a ripe apple, and her sharp eyes, her tight lips, the cheerful creases of her face, expressed an observant and rather tyrannous good-temper.
"Tea? No, thanks; no tea for me," she almost shouted; "I've just had tea with Mrs. Grier. How are you, Lady Channice? and you, Augustine? What a man you are getting to be; a good inch taller than my Tom. Reading as usual, I see. I can't get my boys to look at a book in vacation time. What's the book? Ah, fuddling your brains with that stuff, still, are you? Still determined to be a philosopher? Do you really want him to be a philosopher, my dear?"
"Indeed I think it would be very nice if he could be a philosopher," said Lady Channice, smiling, for though she had often to evade Mrs. Grey's tyranny she liked her good temper. She seemed in her reply to float, lightly and almost gaily above Mrs. Grey, and away from her. Mrs. Grey was accustomed to these
tactics and it was characteristic of her not to let people float away if she could possibly help it. This matter of Augustine's future was frequently in dispute between them. Her feet planted firmly, her rifle at her shoulder, she seemed now to take aim at a bird that flew from her.
"And of course you encourage him! You read with him and study with him! And you won't see that you let him drift more and more out of practical life and into moonshine. What does it do for him, that's what I ask? Where does it lead him? What's the good of it? Why he'll finish as a fusty old don. Does it make you a better man, Augustine, or a happier one, to spend all your time reading
philosophy?"
"Very much better, very much happier, I find:—but I don't give it all my time, you know," Augustine answered, with much his mother's manner of light evasion. He let Mrs. Grey see that he found her funny; perhaps he wished to let her see that philosophy helped him to. Mrs. Grey gave up the fantastic bird and turned on her heel.
"Well, I've not come to dispute, as usual, with you, Augustine. I've come to ask you, Lady Channice, if you won't, for once, break through your rules and come to tea on Sunday. I've a surprise for you. An old friend of yours is to be of our party for this week-end. Lady Elliston; she comes tomorrow, and she writes that she hopes to see something of you."
Mrs. Grey had her eye rather sharply on Lady Channice; she expected to see her colour rise, and it did rise.
"Lady Elliston?" she repeated, vaguely, or, perhaps, faintly.
"Yes; you did know her; well, she told me."
"It was years ago," said Lady Channice, looking down; "Yes, I knew her quite well. It would be very nice to see her again. But I don't think I will break my rule; thank you so much."
Mrs. Grey looked a little disconcerted and a little displeased. "Now that you are growing up, Augustine," she said, "you must shake your mother out of her way of life. It's bad for her. She lives here, quite alone, and, when you are away—as you will have to be more and more, for some time now,—she sees nobody but her village girls, Mrs. Grier and me from one month's end to the other. I can't think what she's made of. I should go mad. And so many of us would be delighted if she would drop in to tea with us now and then."
"Oh, well, you can drop in to tea with her instead," said Augustine. His mother sat silent, with her faint smile.
"Well, I do. But I'm not enough, though I flatter myself that I'm a good deal. It's unwholesome, such a life, downright morbid and unwholesome. One should mingle with one's kind. I shall wonder at you, Augustine, if you allow it, just as, for years, I've wondered at your father."
It may have been her own slight confusion, or it may have been something exasperating in Lady Channice's silence, that had precipitated Mrs. Grey upon this speech, but, when she had made it, she became very red and wondered whether she had gone too far. Mrs. Grey was prepared to go far. If people evaded her, and showed an unwillingness to let her be kind to them—on her own terms,—terms which, in regard to Lady Channice, were very strictly defined;—if people would behave in this unbecoming and ungrateful fashion, they only got, so Mrs. Grey would have put it, what they jolly well deserved if she gave them a "stinger." But Mrs. Grey did not like to give Lady Channice "stingers"; therefore she now became red and wondered at herself.
Lady Channice had lifted her eyes and it was as if Mrs. Grey saw walls and moats and impenetrable thickets glooming in them. She answered for Augustine: "My husband and I have always been in perfect agreement on the
matter."
Mrs. Grey tried a cheerful laugh;—"You won him over, too, no doubt."
"Entirely."
"Well, Augustine," Mrs. Grey turned to the young man again, "I don't succeed with your mother, but I hope for better luck with you. You're a man, now, and not yet, at all events, a monk. Won't you dine with us on Saturday night?"
Now Mrs. Grey was kind; but she had never asked Lady Channice to dinner. The line had been drawn, firmly drawn years ago—and by Mrs. Grey herself —at tea. And it was not until Lady Channice had lived for several years at Charlock House, when it became evident that, in spite of all that was suspicious, not to say sinister, in her situation, she was not exactly cast off and that her husband, so to speak, admitted her to tea if not to dinner,—it was not until then that Mrs. Grey voiced at once the tolerance and the discretion of the neighbourhood and said: "They are on friendly terms; he comes to see her twice a year. We can call; she need not be asked to anything but tea. There can be no harm in that."
There was, indeed, no harm, for though, when they did call in Mrs. Grey's broad wake, they were received with gentle courtesy, they were made to feel that social contacts would go no further. Lady Channice had been either too much offended or too much frightened by the years of ostracism, or perhaps it was really by her own choice that she adopted the attitude of a person who saw people when they came to her but who never went to see them. This attitude, accepted by the few, was resented by the many, so that hardly anybody ever called upon Lady Channice. And so it was that Mrs. Grey satisfied at once benevolence and curiosity in her staunch visits to the recluse of Charlock House, and could feel herself as Lady Channice's one wholesome link with the world that she had rejected or—here lay all the ambiguity, all the mystery that, for years, had whetted Mrs. Grey's curiosity to fever-point—that had rejected her.
As Augustine grew up the situation became more complicated. It was felt that as the future owner of Charlock House and inheritor of his mother's fortune Augustine was not to be tentatively taken up but decisively seized. People had resented Sir Hugh's indifference to Charlock House, the fact that he had never lived there and had tried, just before his marriage, to sell it. But Augustine was yet blameless, and Augustine would one day be a wealthy not an impecunious squire, and Mrs. Grey had said that she would see to it that Augustine had his chance. "Apparently there's no one to bring him out, unless I do," she said. "His father, it seems, won't, and his mother can't. One doesn't know what to think, or, at all events, one keeps what one thinks to oneself, for she is a good, sweet creature, whatever her faults may have been. But Augustine shall be asked to dinner one day " .
Augustine's "chance," in Mrs. Grey's eye, was her sixth daughter, Marjory.
So now the first step up the ladder was being given to Augustine.
He kept his vagueness, his lightness, his coolly pleasant smile, looking at Mrs. Grey and not at his mother as he answered: "Thanks so much, but I'm monastic,
too, you know. I don't go to dinners. I'll ride over some afternoon and see you all " .
Mrs. Grey compressed her lips. She was hurt and she had, also, some difficulty in restraining her temper before this rebuff. "But you go to dinners in London. You stay with people."  
"Ah, yes; but I'm alone then. When I'm with my mother I share her life." He spoke so lightly, yet so decisively, with a tact and firmness beyond his years, that Mrs. Grey rose, accepting her defeat.
"Then Lady Elliston and I will come over, some day," she said. "I wish we saw more of her. John and I met her while we were staying with the Bishop this Spring. The Bishop has the highest opinion of her. He said that she was a most unusual woman,—in the world, yet not of it. One feels that. Her eldest girl married young Lord Catesby, you know; a very brilliant match; she presents her second girl next Spring, when I do Marjory. You must come over for a ride with Marjory, soon, Augustine."
"I will, very soon," said Augustine.
When their visitor at last went, when the tramp of her heavy boots had receded down the hall, Lady Channice and her son again sat in silence; but it was now another silence from that into which Mrs. Grey's shots had broken. It was like the stillness of the copse or hedgerow when the sportsmen are gone and a vague stir and rustle in ditch or underbrush tells of broken wings or limbs, of a wounded thing hiding.
Lady Channice spoke at last. "I wish you had accepted for the dinner, Augustine. I don't want you to identify yourself with my peculiarities."
"I didn't want to dine with Mrs. Grey, mother."
"You hurt her. She is a kind neighbour. You will see her more or less for all of your life, probably. You must take your place, here, Augustine."
"My place is taken. I like it just as it is. I'll see the Greys as I always have seen them; I'll go over to tea now and then and I'll ride and hunt with the children."
"But that was when you were a child. You are almost a man now; you are a man, Augustine; and your place isn't a child's place."
"My place is by you." For the second time that day there was a new note in Augustine's voice. It was as if, clearly and definitely, for the first time, he was feeling something and seeing something and as if, though very resolutely keeping from her what he felt, he was, when pushed to it, as resolutely determined to let her see what he saw.
"By me, dear," she said faintly. "What do you mean?"
"She ought to have asked you to dinner, too."
"But I would not have accepted; I don't go out. She knows that. She knows that I am a real recluse."
"She ought to have asked knowing that you would not accept."